Let’s stop teaching philosophy of religion in secular colleges

Jul 31, 2014

By Why Evolution is True

Philosophers have reproved me because, as a mere biologist, I have no right to criticize the teaching of philosophy of religion in colleges, nor to call for its end.  But I reject the idea that biologists have no standing to give such an opinion, just as I reject the notion that philosophers can’t pass judgement on whether some areas of science are unproductive. All that matters is that opinions must be informed and supported with arguments. And I think I know enough about the philosophy of religion, and about how it’s taught in some colleges, to pass at least a reasonably informed judgment on the value of the discipline—which is almost nil. It’salmost nil because while it can inform us about the influence of scripture and how it was invented (a useful endeavor), it also promulgates religion and prepares students for the ministry.

I think that teaching different philosophies of religion in secular schools is fine—so long as it’s in courses on comparative religion. And some Biblical scholarship is also useful for it’s a form of historical reconstruction of a document that is taken seriously.  So, too, are courses in the Bible as literature, in the same way that we should have courses in Shakespeare as literature, or in any influential form of literature (or forms that deserve to be more influential).

But too often courses in the philosophy of religion turn into courses on religious apologetics: teaching Biblical exegesis as if the Bible were true. So, secular schools like Duke and Harvard (and my own school) have “divinity schools.” Those schools teach, in part, theology.  I don’t see that as a valid subject for a secular school, since it’s the study of a nonexistent entity and what he/she/it wants us to do. Comparative theology is fine, but do we need whole schools of this stuff at secular universities?

Here are a few courses from the prestigious Harvard Divinity School (to be sure, this school has a lot more diversity, in terms of courses on different faiths, than other divinity schools):

Intimacy with God: Jewish Conceptions of Communion, Mystical Union and the Holy Spirit

Introduction to Islamic Mysticism: The Sufi Tradition

Greek Exegesis of John

Religion, Gender, and Culture Colloquium: Feminist Theory and Theology

Clinical Chaplaincy: Interfaith Caregiving Skills and Practice

United Methodist Polity

Meaning Making – Thinking Theologically about Ministry Experience: Seminar

Catholicism Faces Modernity: Classics of Twentieth Century Roman Catholicism

Advanced Spiritual Counseling: Taking Care of Others, Taking Care of Self: Seminar

Pentecostal Polity Note the description: The history, principles and practice of Pentecostal believers. To understand the nature and functioning of Pentecostal denominations. To prepare Pentecostal students for ordination. The course will include liturgy, worship, and theology of the Pentecostal faith. The focus primarily will be on the major Pentecostal denominations and the charismatic flavor of other major denominations.

Mystical Theology

United Church of Christ Polity: The history, polity, and practice of the United Church of Christ. Issues addressed throughout include ecclesiology, mission, professional ethics, the ordination process, justice, as well as contemporary principles and patterns of the UCC. Students seeking ordination are urged to take this course during their middler year, but all are welcome

Communication Skills for Spanish Ministry

Unitarian Universalist Religious Education: Seminar. This course is designed to equip future ministers with the knowledge, skills, resourcefulness, and self-awareness needed to form the faith of Unitarian Universalists in the 21st century.

Introduction to Christian Preaching: This course introduces students to the theology and the practice of preaching within the Christian tradition. Special attention will be paid to developing a theological understanding of both the preacher and the preached word, and students will be expected to prepare and deliver several sermons during the course of the term.

This is only a small sample. A sudden pain in my lower mesentery prevented me from going further down the list. It’s long.

But you get the point: many of these courses are designed to prepare students to learn and preach the Word of God, while others involve minute exegesis of fiction in a way that wouldn’t be tolerated for any other influential work of fiction. There are dozens and dozens of these courses. I think many are superfluous, for they’re helping students spread delusions.

But if you reject my standing to say this, listen instead to John Loftus, who used to be an evangelical Christian preacher, but gave up the faith. Loftus is now not only writing about his “deconversion,” but also offering thoughtful critiques of Christianity. I particularly like his booWhy I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity (only about $13 on Amazon), which is far more than just a deconversion tale: it’s also an incisive critique of Christian apologetics. His anthology edited with Dan Barker, The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails, is also very good, and contains a chapter on Loftus’s well-known “Outsider Test for Faith”  (OTF), a rational program for examining why one should prefer one’s own religion over others (hint: you should reject them all). You can find a bunch of John’s online writings about the OTF here.

But I digress. Loftus has a new piece at his site, Debunking Christianity, with the no-nonsense title, “I’m calling for an end to the philosophy of religion as a discipline in secular universities.” (Note also that the next day he had a back-and-forth about this with Biblical scholar Jaco Gericke).

Loftus’s essay is a response to a book by philosopher Graham Oppy defending philosophy of religion, Reinventing Philosophy of Religion: An Opinionated Introduction, as well as a YouTube video interiew Oppy did about the topic/ I haven’t read the book, but I have watched the (or rather listened) to the video, where Oppy criticizes Peter Boghossian and my own views against teaching this discipline. Loftus’s criticisms of Oppy are on the mark:

Oppy tells us: “Philosophy of religion as a discipline, I would think, probably doesn’t date much earlier than the second World War.” This historical lesson is significant, I think, for we did without it for centuries and we can do without it again. Later Oppy offers his criticism, saying, “Most of the people who have done philosophy of religion have been theists.” So it stands to reason “it has had an extremely narrow focus…It hasn’t really been the philosophy of religion but rather Christianity with a very great emphasis on theism,” and even apologetics/Christian theology. Okay then, as it stands today the philosophy of religion is dominated by Christian theists who discuss concepts and arguments germane to Christianity, and even defending it. Given what he said, the philosophy of religion needs reinvented if it is to survive. The unaddressed question is why we should have a discipline in any secular university where theism, or Christian theism, Christian theology or Christian apologetics is privileged and considered to the exclusion of all other religions or apologetics? It shouldn’t. If this is the state of affairs then the only reasonable response is to call for the end of that discipline. NOW!

Oppy calls for the broadening of the discipline to other religions. My response is similar to that of Loftus: there are thousands of religions, past and present, all with different “philosophies” (i.e., philosophies). Which ones should we study? And given that all the tenets of these religions are dubious, and their evidence for gods nonexistent, do we need entire departments to handle this stuff? Loftus responds:

To reinvent the philosophy of religion Oppy argues, “it must address questions that apply to the phenomena of religion in general.” That’s it. He argues the philosophy of religion should also discuss Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist views and religious concepts. By extension I would think, it should also discuss the views of other religions, all of them (although there is quite the discussion about what even makes a religion a religion). Oppy’s proposal would therefore include all of the dead religions too. Why not? Why assume that a dead religion, or a dead god, is no longer worthy to be discussed? Why not discuss Zoroastrianism, or Canaanite religions? Does the death of a religion mean it must not be a true one? I see no reason to think so. And who decides which religion is worthy of discussing?

. . . In any case, if the philosophy of religion was reinvented as Oppy suggests, then what we would end up with is a Religious Studies discipline and classes focusing on comparative religion, or the varieties of religious experience, where religious are compared/contrasted/considered and the secular counter-part is offered as a critique of them all. But we already have these kinds of classes.

Indeed we do.  What we don’t need are entire Divinity Schools or Schools of Theology in secular universities. This privileges an entire discipline based on a human endeavor that itself rests on dubious and unsubstantiated claims. Further, they concentrate largely (but not exclusively) on active Abrahamic religions. There are few, if any, courses on atheism in divinity schools, but they should be at least as prominent as courses in religious apologetics. That is distasteful in a country that officially favors no religion in particular. If we are to have such schools, let us then have Ethical Schools, or Schools of Moral Thinking, or The School of Ancient Greek and Roman Philosophy. But all of these can simply be subsumed in departments of philosophy or history.

Indeed, why not have a School of Pseudoscience, which teaches courses on creationism and its arguments, ESP and its arguments, homeopathy and its arguments, and so on? Or how about a school that one can justify far better:  The School of the History and Philosophy of Science? There are programs in this area, but usually those courses—courses that deal with reality instead of fiction—are subsumed in philosophy departments.  And that’s fine.

30 comments on “Let’s stop teaching philosophy of religion in secular colleges

  • @Op – But too often courses in the philosophy of religion turn into courses on religious apologetics: teaching Biblical exegesis as if the Bible were true. So, secular schools like Duke and Harvard (and my own school) have “divinity schools.” Those schools teach, in part, theology. I don’t see that as a valid subject for a secular school, since it’s the study of a nonexistent entity and what he/she/it wants us to do. Comparative theology is fine, but do we need whole schools of this stuff at secular universities?

    Its a point I have made before, but science was part of philosophy, before it split off as a specialist part of it and expanded into the massive range of specialist subjects it is today.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_philosophy
    Natural philosophy or the philosophy of nature (from Latin philosophia naturalis) was the philosophical study of nature and the physical universe that was dominant before the development of modern science. It is considered to be the precursor of natural sciences such as physics.[1][2]

    Natural science historically developed out of philosophy or, more specifically, natural philosophy. At older universities, long-established Chairs of Natural Philosophy are nowadays occupied mainly by physics professors. Modern meanings of the terms science and scientists date only to the 19th century. The naturalist-theologian William Whewell was the one who coined the term “scientist”. The Oxford English Dictionary dates the origin of the word to 1834.

    The problem with these courses, is that having split off scientific methodology, the objectives of understanding nature, and the use of mathematics and logical reasoning, – these so-called “philosophy” courses are left with the rump-end of theological fallacies of “faith” and apologetics for past ignorance and superstition, – with most (as in the OP examples), confined to the very limited area of particular forms of Abrahamic or Christian superstition and mythology.

    If the philosophical, historical, psychological and anthropological aspects of religions were to be studied, one might expect an unbiased and objective cross-section of world’s cultural beliefs, past and present, to be included on an objective, equitable, and representative basis.



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  • 2
    Nunbeliever says:

    This is off topic, but in my opinion quite important. This very article illustrates how silent this whole site has become. There used to be countless intelligent and interesting contributors on this site. Now, very few are left. I hardly ever visit RD.net anymore. What’s the point? This site was never about the articles. You can find the same articles from a thousand different sources on the internet. This site was all about the community and reading comments by other fellow more or less rational atheist. I remember a time when Richard Dawkins himself would make his presence known, almost on a daily basis. On WEIT, this particular article has so far gathered almost 150 replies. Jerry Coyne actively participates in the discussion. On this site there are two lonely replies (mine included). It’s just so sad to see this site sink into oblivion. I guess, that’s just the nature of the beast. If you don’t care about your audience it will evaporate. Quite obviously Dawkins don’t really give a shit about this site anymore. It’s just one of a million formal websites, giving information about his foundation. The community is all but gone. Richard Dawkins might not understand this as we are speaking. But, in time I think he will realize that ignoring such a devoted and loyal community was a very big mistake.

    To all the moderators (if there are any moderators left?): Yes, this was off topic. But, who really cares? I mean few people watch these articles anyway… and even fewer bother to leave a comment. But, feel free to erase this one as well if you like to. Who cares? That’s the problem. Who the fuck cares anymore? This is a wasteland, as far as I’m concerned.



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  • To all the moderators (if there are any moderators left?): Yes, this was off topic. But, who really cares? I mean few people watch these articles anyway… and even fewer bother to leave a comment. But, feel free to erase this one as well if you like to. Who cares? That’s the problem. Who the fuck cares anymore? This is a wasteland, as far as I’m concerned.

    I’m trying to be faithful to this site, but like others, I have some sympathy with what Nunbeliever says. I am reminded of the Hitch Hikers’ Guide to the Galaxy, and the space ship run by hair stylists and telephone cleaners which (finally ?) re-populated the Earth.

    It seems the stylists took over here, and the many of the congregation left.

    Incidentally , on topic, I am sympathetic with Jerry Coyne’s view. As Alan has pointed out, in the early days, philosophy was science ! When the RCC took over western philosophy and suppressed the advancement of knowledge for getting on for 1000 years, philosophy took on the veil of justifying Christianity, – and that was its purpose !

    As we all know reality eventually began to assert itself in human understanding of the universe with the likes of Copernicus, Galileo, Newton etc and the start of the scientific method, where all things are cast into question, and empirical evidence sought, collected, tested and conjectures developed to explain the findings.

    As far as I’m concerned the philosophy of religion is, in the light of modern knowledge, a study in smoke and mirrors, the art of deception and a complete waste of time and effort.



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  • Alan,

    I am still waiting for you to come back to me on my critisim of your position on “Can moral science exist?”.

    Some say that “they couldn’t even win an argument”. But the truth is that “argument” is a more generic term than “science” and in science and morality we all must surrender to the “best argument”. Anything but surrender is mischievious. If there is a better argument then we are all ears.

    Man’s knowledge of the world, including himself, is the summation of the best arguments. Popper termed it “objective knowledge” or “World 3”. To get an argument into World 3 it has to meet two criteria;

    it has to be testable, and
    it has to meet Taski’s definition of “truth”, it has to “correspond with the facts”.
    and 2. are the only criteria for judging an argument. Everyone knows them and uses them everyday despite them having no knowledge of epistemology.

    To put it a different way. I often say that there are three kinds of knowledge; belief, subjective knowledge (opinion) and objective knowledge. And I qualify this by saying “who gives a monkies what you believe until it is tested and corresponds with the facts” and “who gives a monkies about your opinion until is is tested and corresponds with the facts”. The bottom line is that there is only truth or objective knowledge.



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  • Dear Nunbeliever,

    This site is unmoderated, you press the send key and your comment is there before the world.

    I, for example, can read it and note that it is the first comment I have read to use foul language. But I have also posted some “arguments” begging antithesis and received none. Maybe you would oblige?



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  • Before starting my “argument” may I please beg for comment. Maybe Alan4discussion or Numbeliever would offer an antithesis?

    Philosophers come in all shapes and sizes. No they do not. They only come in one shape, respect for the truth (correspondence with the facts). They only “argue” and if they win the argument their name lives forever. The big picture catalogue is Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Locke, Hume, Kant, Mill and Popper. There have been many minor contributors as noted in Russell’s “History of Western Philosophy” but existentialists, Marx and the Christian apologists don’t even enter the picture. As Russell said of St. Aquinus, “I will not spend too much time on a man who gave 70 pages of proofs that angels have wings”.

    Mixing truth seekers with goddo is mischievious and contemptable. Philosophers despise the goddo rubbish. How could they seek truth if the only truth comes from the church? Their comments on the existence of an absolute being have always been contemptuous; the horse goddo would have been horselike, must have been created by a great statesman, don’t multipy entities, ask a silly question and you get a silly answer, the opium of the people, of what you cannot know you should not speak………..
    That is why we use the term goddo.

    Philosophers are not atheists but rather take the position of having “no position” on the subject as it is not a valid enquiry when they have substantial questions to address. The king of philosophical enquiry is, and always has been, the epistemological question. None of the greats has ever deviated from truth seeking to ask dumb questions like “what are we here for?” or “what is the meaning of life?”. These are hooks that the church uses to capture the gullible.



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  • I think you are wrong I think there is still moderation. The old site was definitely moderated and the moderation was quite good. It wasn’t moderated to prevent foul language (we are all adults) it was moderated to prevent off topic points and pointless name calling and invective language. My guess is since there is so little real discussion anymore no one gets emotional enough for the mods to step in.



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  • I don’t agree at all. Philosophers do come in all shapes. Many of them are apologists for the status quo and for established beliefs. Even some of the existentialists (Kierkegaard, Paul Tillich) were highly religious and of course if you go back further some of the most important philosophers in the history of western thought were highly religious: Thomas Aquinas, Bishop Berkeley and even for people like Spinoza and Kant God played an essential role in their philosophy.



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  • David Jul 31, 2014 at 5:12 pm
    I am still waiting for you to come back to me on my critisim of your position on “Can moral science exist?”.

    Sorry I did not see that old thread.

    https://www.richarddawkins.net/2014/07/how-can-moral-science-exist/#li-comment-149977

    I think some of these issues are complex and details are not likely to be resolved any-time soon.

    David Jul 31, 2014 at 5:12 pm –
    To put it a different way. I often say that there are three kinds of knowledge; belief,

    “Belief”, unless clearly defined can be ambiguous – varying from “faith-views”, to acceptance of “evidenced opinions”.

    subjective knowledge (opinion)

    “Subjective knowledge”, would appear to be largely instinctive responses.

    (opinion)

    Again – unless clearly defined can mean anything from “expert opinion”, to “any dreamed up notion”.

    and objective knowledge.

    “Objective knowledge” comes in various levels of probability, dependent on the extent and quality of the evidence, combined with the quality of the analysis.
    This is often easier to evaluate with hindsight!



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  • Alan,

    Thank you for your reply to the old thread. We will leave it there.

    On the current thread. I cannot see where you are coming from. Yes we should state what we mean by the terms we use but I would qualify this by “where necessary”. I use a lot of terms.

    Belief and opinion are every day terms that we all understand. The Popperian term “objective knowledge” may be new to some readers and therefore I have explained what I mean by this term.

    I agree with what you say but A, where are you coming from?, B. lets talk about things and not words and C. where are your comments on my arguments?



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  • Red Dog,

    You say above”I think you are wrong I think there is still moderation.”

    You have made many good points in these pages, and I assume that I do not need to qualify what I mean by the word “points” despite the possible confusion with sharp pointy things, but why make a gratuitous statement of belief or opinion when you can make a simple test.

    I just press “send” and see no moderation and Nitya has stated that there is none.



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  • We might be able to clear this one up!

    There is no moderation before your comment appears, but the moderator team keeps an eye on comments once they have been posted and removes any that are not in keeping with the site’s Terms of Use (found at the foot of each page).

    The moderators



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  • Red Dog Aug 1, 2014 at 12:06 am

    I don’t agree at all. Philosophers do come in all shapes. Many of them are apologists for the status quo and for established beliefs.

    Of course they are and were! Regularly with more respect for preconceptions rather than for “truth”!



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  • Robert and Red Dog,

    I agree with you. I thought I had said much the same below:

    “There have been many minor contributors as noted in Russell’s “History of Western Philosophy” but existentialists, Marx and the Christian apologists don’t even enter the picture. As Russell said of St. Aquinus, “I will not spend too much time on a man who gave 70 pages of proofs that angels have wings”.”

    The point that I argue and our difference is “They (philosophers) only come in one shape, respect for the truth (correspondence with the facts).” When they are state sponsored (Hegel) or church sponsored (Schoolmen) they are hired for their apologist and reinforcement of dogma skills and fail to join the “respect for the truth” club. They might have different shapes but they are not philosophers.

    They are barred from “The big picture catalogue (that) is Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Locke, Hume, Kant, Mill and Popper.”



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  • Objectively speaking, religion has had an enormous effect upon almost every aspect of human life. Of course, it should be the subject of academic study and discourse. Nor do I see any objection to courses being used to train for religious positions. It’s still possible to make an honest living as a minister which is far more than I can say for all those graduate students in other courses of study pining for tenure positions but never finding them. If there was a killer argument or other form of evidence that debunked theism, then I might be tempted to agree with you. But, if it existed, it would have shown up long ago and we would not even be having this exchange. Calling for the elimination of these courses from schools makes you look like an inquisitor out to hound religious believers. That’s not your intention but that’s how it comes off.



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  • Alan,

    Ageed. Or as I put it above (and who says there is no real discussion on this site):

    “Mixing truth seekers with goddo is mischievious and contemptable. Philosophers despise the goddo rubbish. How could they seek truth if the only truth comes from the church? Their comments on the existence of an absolute being have always been contemptuous; the horse goddo would have been horselike, must have been created by a great statesman, don’t multipy entities, ask a silly question and you get a silly answer, the opium of the people, of what you cannot know you should not speak………..
    That is why we use the term goddo.”

    Many of them were great thinkers, many like Hegel and Kiekegaard were rubbish. But if great thinkers like Spinosa, Berkeley and Descrates were tackling silly questions like “push versus pull”, “do sparrows go to heaven?” and yes, even “the mind-body problem” then their contribution to the “standing on the shoulders of giants and seeing further” is miniscule. This excludes them from the A list.



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  • In 1971 while I was a sophomore at a SUNY college, I took an elective course on Philosophy of Religion. The course was taught by an open minded young Lutheran minister. We read books and discussed the different philosophy’s of why God exists but none that do not. I do not remember the particulars but it was understood by the students and teacher that God may not exist in some peoples minds and these people were not evil. I was two years out of my strong Catholic home and one year into my path to Atheism. The course exposed me to the best contemporary philosophy’s for Gods existence that I probably never would have pursued otherwise. My final essay described my doubt of Gods existence and I got an A.



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  • I don’t think much of Thomas Aquinas either but I think it’s wrong to just totally dismiss him and I would be surprised if Russell really does that. You can’t deny that he plays a prominent role in western thought. And to just dismiss someone because they believe in God and you don’t is close minded. I don’t necessarily dismiss some thinker just because I think they are wrong on one issue, even if that issue is very important to me the way atheism is.

    And I very much disagree that existentialists should just be dismissed, especially if you consider Nietzsche an existentialist. I actually think the existentialists made some major shifts in western philosophy that were useful and relevant and were precursors to a lot of the things that Dawkins wrote in The God Delusion and that people like Harris and even the evolutionary psych people and people like Hauser are now saying on ethics.



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  • I don’t think I have ever said that? ( well not intentionally). The comments are moderated. I’ve seen many a comment deleted after it’s been posted.



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  • David Aug 1, 2014 at 5:31 pm

    The point that I argue and our difference is “They (philosophers) only come in one shape, respect for the truth (correspondence with the facts).”

    There could be an element of the “No True Scotsman” fallacy in this, unless “philosopher”, is clearly defined to exclude those who promote circular arguments and fallacious thinking.

    When they are state sponsored (Hegel) or church sponsored (Schoolmen) they are hired for their apologist and reinforcement of dogma skills and fail to join the “respect for the truth” club. They might have different shapes but they are not philosophers.

    I think our difference is one of definition of “philosopher”.

    You are defining some ideal image of a philosopher as a rational seeker of truth, whereas the theological colleges seek to include the circular thinkers who start with preconceptions in their definition of “philosophy”.

    If you look back over earlier discussions, you will see I often refer to such people as theologians, apologists, theosophers, or pseudo-philosophers.

    While there are remaining areas of honest objective philosophy, many of the big questions, have been taken over and answered by science, as it developed from Natural Philosophy, – and as I pointed out earlier – expanded to dwarf its precursor.



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  • david.graf.589 Aug 1, 2014 at 5:53 pm

    If there was a killer argument or other form of evidence that debunked theism, then I might be tempted to agree with you.

    Theisms come in many forms and flavours. Most theists recognise that thousands of theisms have been debunked, and they casually dismiss most of them, without a further thought about the matter.
    It is clear from your comment, that you have not considered the thousands of historical forms of theism, but are only looking through the narrow blinkered vision of your own version of it.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_deities

    http://listverse.com/2014/01/11/10-creation-myths-as-strange-as-the-bible/

    But, if it existed, it would have shown up long ago and we would not even be having this exchange.

    It is when they come to their own indoctrinations, that the mind-blocks kick in, causing denial of evidence!

    Many Buddhists, Hindus, followers of Shinto, and people from numerous other religions can recognise the “killer arguments” against the Abrahamic religions and the numerous conflicting versions of Christianity.

    Calling for the elimination of these courses from schools makes you look like an inquisitor out to hound religious believers. That’s not your intention but that’s how it comes off.

    This simply looks like a reverse projection of your own promotion of a very limited biased view, of what constitutes “religion”!

    In looking at investments by society and individuals, in valuable use of their time, intelligence and money, it is clear there are far too many courses in theistic apologetics, which are counter-productive to developing the productive rational evidence-based thinking, needed to run modern societies on a competent and considerate basis. There needs to be objective quality control and productive investment, in higher education.
    If religion’s social and historic impacts are to be studied in public universities, there should be a proper cross section of beliefs, not a biased promotion of one sect, as in some bible colleges or Islamic colleges.

    The irrational “Faith-thinking”, and sectarian courses, are simply tribalism and divisive in human communities, causing discrimination against non-members, persecutions, conflicts and wars. Wars which very often have god(s) on both sides!



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  • Alan4disussion, Red Dog and all,

    There is an answer.

    We have a demarcation criteria in science that enables us to clearly differentiate that which is bona-fide from psuedo-science, the “falsification criteria”. We just need a similar demarcation criteria in philosophy.

    As a first stab I would suggest replacing the word science with the word argument. By this means we put science and philosophy in the same grouping. They both use the same tools; logic, testing and critical rationlism. They both have the same goal, to find the best answer to a problem ie. the answer that has the greatest truthlikeness, the best argument.

    By choosing the big grouping “argument” we put all answers/arguments on the table and subject them all to the “objective knowledge” demarcation criteria; 1. is it testable? and 2. does it correspond with the facts?



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  • David Aug 2, 2014 at 10:40 am

    Alan4disussion, Red Dog and all,

    There is an answer.

    We have a demarcation criteria in science that enables us to clearly differentiate that which is bona-fide from psuedo-science, the “falsification criteria”. We just need a similar demarcation criteria in philosophy.

    As a first stab I would suggest replacing the word science with the word argument. By this means we put science and philosophy in the same grouping.

    On the face of it this sounds like a good idea.

    They both use the same tools; logic, testing and critical rationlism. They both have the same goal, to find the best answer to a problem ie. the answer that has the greatest truthlikeness, the best argument.

    They SHOULD both use these tools, but historically all sorts of fallacious crap has been passed off as “philosophy”, and I can’t see theology colleges or departments, agreeing to this being taught in their courses.

    By choosing the big grouping “argument” we put all answers/arguments on the table and subject them all to the “objective knowledge” demarcation criteria; 1. is it testable? and 2. does it correspond with the facts?

    Again a good idea when debating with those who respect scientific evidence and rationality, but you assume the participants will be interested in “objective knowledge”!

    demarcation criteria; 1. is it testable? and 2. does it correspond with the facts?

    Most of the theologists and faith-thinkers, will reject criteria 1 as incompatible with their preconceptions, and are likely to doubt-monger and dispute the certainty of “facts” at 2!

    The problems are of a practical educational nature, akin to trying to get people to use the term “scientific theory” correctly.
    There are those heavily invested in maintaining shifting meanings and ambiguity, who like to call themselves “philosophers”!
    Many profound speculations can be postulated, but science continues to investigate, weeding out refuted ideas, while all too often would-be philosophers, dig up and try to reincarnate the failed ideas of the past.

    After all – post-modernism has been included in philosophy courses!

    … . . . But has also been studied by scientists! http://www.elsewhere.org/journal/pomo/, who tested its credibility. – Be sure to read to the bottom of the page of the link!



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  • Alan,

    I knew we were kindred spirits.

    You may have noticed that I am a massive fan of Socrates, Hume, Kant and Popper.

    I agree with you that philosophy gave birth to science and that science is now bigger than philosophy. I put it this way; we go forward in our understanding of the world with a front line of tens of thousands of scientists and their teams, in thousands of disciplines. We learn more in a year than we did in the previous decade. Gone are the days when Casanova was in contact with every scientist in Europe because there were so few of them.

    My A list of the great philosophers were all scientists. They were all cosmologists seeking to understand the cosmos, the world. The label cosmology is restricted to astronomy today but is was the label we used before we used the label science (I don’t think the label science came from Whewell although he did name almost everything else). When you look at a philosophy book like “The Logic of Scientific Discovery” (Popper) it is pure science.

    When I read mechanical engineering nearly 40 years ago the only scientific discipline that followed the Popperian scientific method was medicine. Thank God, to coin a phrase. There is little room for quacks in UK medicine.

    I like the label “argument” for many reasons. Science will do but argument is more generic and science can turn a lot of less educated people off as they associate it with Frankenstien, Atom bombs, GMO, white coats and clever sods when it is nothing more than “common sense writ large”. The label argument also crosses borders between laws of nature and the moral laws that we “choose” (you cannot derive ought statements from is statements). We can see that the best argument is the winner in science and we can see that the best argument is the winner in Parliament. Argument is universal to pure and practical philosophy to use Kant’s terminology. You might not have the qualificantions to enter the debate about Dark Matter but you can enter into more important debates about the creation of new moral laws by being the first to point out negative consequencies.

    Adoring the greats, and regarding the search for the truth as the only spiritual endevour, I have little regard for those who streal our cherrished labels such as truth and philosophy for the self-aggrandisement of their income and pension. I therefore press for a more universal demarcation between rubbish and truth.



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  • I think the future of Philosophy of Religion will be more likely determined by the forces of the market than by the rantings of atheism.



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  • harry Aug 3, 2014 at 6:50 am

    I think the future of Philosophy of Religion will be more likely determined by the forces of the market

    You may well be right! A qualification in delusional flawed thinking is not worth much for any job-seeker outside the Bible-Belt, who is competing with people who have qualifications in practical useful subjects.



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  • David Aug 2, 2014 at 8:11 pm

    When I read mechanical engineering nearly 40 years ago the only scientific discipline that followed the Popperian scientific method was medicine.

    You will probably be able to make some interesting contributions to this type of discussion, where I have put various comments on future engineering projects and possibilities!

    https://www.richarddawkins.net/2013/11/for-profit-asteroid-mining-missions-to-start-in-2016/#li-comment-118427



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